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LAS VEGAS: LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT FUN

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It's a gamble. But hey, that's what you're here for.

The gamble is a tip from Anthony Curtis, editor and publisher of the "Las Vegas Adviser Recommendations" monthly newsletter, on how to get in to see the Mirage Hotel's Siegfried and Roy show - the hottest ticket in town - without waiting in line for hours.According to LVAR, which is Las Vegas' own version of "Consumer Reports Travel Letter" - no advertising and no freebies for these folks - people have been known to line up at 5 a.m., begging to pay $67.32 apiece for tickets to this sensational magic show that includes elaborate production numbers and 10 live white tigers, a lion, a disappearing elephant and more.

Curtis says to skip the line.

"With approximately 3,000 tickets sold nightly, a fair number have to cancel because of changes in plans, and the Mirage puts those tickets up for sale prior to the show," he wrote in a recent issue. "I suspect that a few good seats are held back to cover last-second contingencies, then thrown in with the cancellations when it's apparent they won't be needed."

To make sure his advice was good, I asked a ticket seller right before the show if tickets usually were available at the last minute, and she nodded, yes. If you're interested, you should go an hour ahead of the show when reservations that have not been picked up are sold.

However, there is a gamble that there might not be any left; indeed, every ticket is taken at some shows and the more people hear about this method, the less likely there are to be spare tickets.

Curtis says that the least crowded nights are Mondays, Tuesdays and Sundays and that it's easier to get returns for the 11 p.m. show than the 7:30 p.m. show.

If you want to be safer and go earlier, you can call 792-7777 to check ticket availability and status of the line for tickets; it opens at 9:30 a.m.

TOP VALUES

The newsletter also rates the city's top 10 values each month. Not surprisingly, a number of the hotels are not on the main strip of hotels. The best bets for the July issue are the following:

- The Horseshoe's steak or prime rib dinner for $2 between 10 p.m. and 5:45 a.m.

- The Riviera's choice of three shows with dinner for $9.95 ($12.95 on Saturdays).

- California's porterhouse steak dinner for $8.95 between 5:30 and 11 p.m.

- Half-price pasta specialties from 5-11 p.m. at the Pasta Palace Station (he says six adults ate pasta and drank wine for $48).

- The Horseshoe's ham and eggs breakfast for $2.

- O'Shea's imported beers for 85 cents. With a coupon, the first two drinks per person are free.

- Palace Station's buffet for $2.95 to $7.95.

- The Riviera's fun book; free for the asking with an out-of-state license.

Las Vegas is legendary for ridiculously low prices. Besides the obvious reason that hotels want to lure bettors into their casinos, Curtis says, "Another idea is that losers don't want to talk about the money they lost. So this lets them go home and say, `Let me tell you about the $2 steak dinner I had, and the 49-cent breakfast."'

BEST IN TOWN

On the other end of the spectrum, Curtis evaluates the top hotels in town as Caesars Palace (still everybody's favorite, he says), the Desert Inn, the Golden Nugget (downtown), Bally's, the Las Vegas Hilton and the Mirage.

"Other hotels like the Sands, the Tropicana and the Riviera, which all used to be very exclusive and for high rollers, now are seeing the value of courting the middle market with low-price shows and good values," he says.

Curtis is a walking information pod, giving judgments the casinos don't always want the public to hear. For instance, he says the highly touted $3.95 Circus-Circus Friday night seafood buffet is no bargain because the lines are so long. And the Mirage certainly wasn't thrilled with the Siegfried and Roy advice. Curtis wasn't even invited to the Excalibur opening party. Which means he's the perfect adviser.

The monthly newsletter lists toll-free phone numbers for each hotel, tells who is starring at each casino and the price of shows, gives gaming strategies (Curtis won $125,000 in the Caesars Palace Atlantic City Craps Championship this April) and includes reviews of restaurants, shows, entertainment and much more.

A one-year subscription is $30 for 12 issues; a single issue is $3. Write Huntington Press, P.O. Box 28041, Las Vegas, Nev. 89126. Send a self-addressed envelope with your order for a single issue.